As a product of the 80s, I am a big fan of old-school-induced nostalgia—from cheesy television shows to classic hip hop, any chance to spotlight a throwback is a good one in my opinion! Bernie's Burger Bus, a force that has more or less taken over the burger scene in Houston the last few years, has created an environment with its brick and mortar location in Bellaire where new-school food meets old-school awesome.
Decked out in your typical school days motif with lockers in one corner, posters on the walls and an actual working school bell mounted above the bar, though the first thing you'll likely notice when you enter Bernie's is the giant yellow school bus situated at the back of the restaurant. Doubling as extra kitchen space, the bus was once used as one of the original Bernie's Burger Bus food trucks and really drives (pardon the pun) the whole grammar school theme home in a big way.
Beyond the bus, Bernie's has become famous for its all-natural, made-from-scratch meals. Chef Justin Turner's team hand-grinds their burgers using a custom blend of choice cuts and make all of their condiments in-house (yes, even the ketchup). The challah buns on the burgers are one of the few items not made on-site, in fact, but are baked and delivered daily by Slow Dough. With names like the Principal, the Kindergartner and the Cheerleader, each burger is distinct with a personality (if you will) all its own. The menu reads like a back-t-school guide in which Electives are extras like additional cheeses, bacon, mushrooms, fried egg, and chili, while the Extra Curriculars section lists the wide variety of french fries, from sweet potato to truffle and parmesan.
Whether you went to school five years ago or 25 years ago, surely you have some recollection of detention. For me, it was something I got sometimes, it was a little scary and made me a little nervous, but I got through it. Well, here I am in 2015, and the Detention burger causes many of those same emotions to well back up every time I face it. As one of the most extreme eats I have had in the city so far, the Detention is as striking as it is delicious (if you can get your hands and lips around it!): two burger patties smothered in cheddar cheese, "tipsy" onions (tipsy because they were braised in Jack Daniels, naturally) and garlic roasted tomatoes are sandwiched between two crispy, pecan-smoked bacon grilled cheese sandwiches. Yes, in this case, the buns aren't from Slow Dough because, I repeat, they're two grilled cheese sandwiches. This entire mouthful will set you back $17, a bargain as far as I'm concerned.
With a full bar and daily happy hour specials including $3 pints, Bernie's Burger Bus has quickly become one of the hottest destinations in Bellaire. The family-friendly restaurant is bustling most evenings with diners loading up on those old-school classics. When Detention isn't on the schedule for the day, there are additionally a large variety of regular sized burgers for the average student—ahem, diner. One of my favorite combos is the Substitute with the classic all-American salted caramel apple pie milkshake. The blue cheese-topped burger is melt-in-your mouth delicious with crispy bacon, mushrooms and those "tipsy" onions again, while the milkshake with chunky bits of real apple pie takes you back to your after-school hangout.
Turner isn't stopping here, however. He plans a second location in Katy for this fall with more on the way, while his now-famous made-from-scratch condiments are being sold at area Whole Foods Markets. And while you can take a shot at making your own Bernie's burger at home, Detention is best served here in Bellaire.
Bernie's Burger Bus, 5407 Bellaire Blvd., 713-349-9400, berniesburgerbus.com